Promotion (Not Posthumous) Post #1–In the Navy (and / or Army, Marines, Air Force…)

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Howdy everyone!  Sorry I’ve been so quiet over the last few days.  I’ve been doing National Novel Writing Month, a.k.a. “NaNoWrimo.”  For those who don’t know, information can be found at nanowrimo.org .  Unless your name is Michael Stackpole, it’s probably too late for you to knock out the requisite 50,000 words this year…but you can file this away for next.  Nano is a good time, and it really helps to get the rust off the writing gears so to speak.  At the beginning of this show I was struggling to knock out the requisite 1,667 words, but now I’m really…

Oh wait, I’m not here to talk about Nano.  No, I’m here to talk about Promotions, a.k.a. ways to get your book out there into the wild.  As time is short (it’s late y’all, and I’ve got to get a good night’s sleep for once), I’m going to keep tonight’s Promo talk oriented on one of the world’s most captive audiences: the military.

I know, I know, for those of you who haven’t even finished your book, this is kind of “Uh, what?”  Ditto those of you who may write romances (although you’d be surprised what gets read on staff duty).  Don’t worry, your posts are coming–it’s just that I’m in the midst of doing some promoing in another tab right now, and it occurred to me that would be a perfect time to share.

So, without further ado, here are some places to write in order to get your book in front of service members.  In almost every case, this is a matter of “You gotta spend dough to make bread…”…but that’s pretty much how a great deal of promo works anyway.  (More on “Free Promo” at a later date.)  What I’m basically saying here is this:  If you cannot or will not spend $75 to purchase 15-25 books that you will never see again, stop reading now.  On the other hand, if you don’t mind donating material that may brighten a service member’s day and possibly get you a lifetime fan, keep on delving down.

 

The USO

The United Service Organization (USO) is the non-profit made most famous by Bob Hope.  If you’ve never been or traveled in the military, you’re probably going “WTF?” right now.  Those of us who have been in the military and traveled overseas are probably thinking about cookies, friendly volunteers, and that guy who is doing a Permanent Change of Station from the Land of the Morning Calm (Korea) to the Land of Schnitzel and Booze (Germany) via flying all the way across the United States.  Basically, imagine if someone set up a cubbyhole with a couple couches, a TV, some board games, and a few tables for service members, and that’s your average airport USO.

Know what?  When that guy who is doing the “Three Continents in Three Days”-Challenge is not horizontal on the couch snoring away, he’s probably bored out of his mind.  Why?  Because he just got through battling with some O-6’s two bratty kids for the last remaining 110 outlet like they were three monkeys on the ramp to Noah’s Ark…and he’s not the monkey who brought a .45.

3rd-monkey

I’ve been that guy (albeit before we had cell phones, so it was a whole different circle of Hell).  In that situation, a person will read anything.  *pause* Anything.

“Why are you reading Marie Claire?”–guy next to 2LT Young, Seattle USO, November 1998

“It’s got words.”–me

You know who takes free book donations?  The USO.  Know who will put your novel right there in that bookshelf so the poor guy contemplating dependent assault can read it?  The USO.  Now, it can’t be anything too controversial (Timmy’s Guide to Satanism is ruled right out…as are bodice rippers).  However, if you have a first book of a series or several chap books that may or may not have typos that made it past your beta readers?  Perfect place to send them.  Because nothing brightens a mood like a good novel, donated Girl Scout cookies (see, the green-sashed crack dealers know what’s up), and USO coffee.  Make sure it’s your good novel.

How do you get a hold of the USO?  Just go to their site and pick a location.  I recommend someplace that has a lot of unaccompanied personnel like Korea.  Drop a line to the email for that location.  Wait.

Carriers

I’ve never served in the Navy.  For some reason people seem shocked at…oh, yeah, it’s all the boat and space stuff.

Anyway, if there’s one thing a lot of Navy and Marine brethren have told me, it’s that being aboard a ship is boring.  Really boring.  Like, “OMG, I’ve now read everything in the book library and I’m basically banned from the Playstation tournament because I went 16-0 in the Madden league…”-boring.  The average U.S. carrier has, oh, the population of a small town.  “A one stop light that’s always blinking OMG I’m related to everyone…”–small town.  For those of you who did not grow up in the Land of Everyone Knows My Business, the average small town library is not exactly well stocked.  Now imagine if that same small town library happened to have a clientele that trends heavily towards military sci-fi yet often has the same popular books that the last steel can with a flat top did.  Think maaaaaaayyybbeee that’s thousands of sailors who would REALLY LIKE SOMETHING ELSE TO READ?

I have donated to three carriers.  All three donations have led directly to confirmed sales either in person or via Kindle.  That’s right, when you give someone a free book, they will happen to see your sign at a con, stop dead still, and ask, “Are you the James Young [or, hopefully, your name]?  The sci-fi guy who donated a couple books to the [insert carrier]?!”  Once you confirm that yes, indeed, you are [insert your name or, if you have no scruples, name they actually thought you were], at the very least profuse thanks will likely ensue.  At the very best, if they see you in person, they will buy muchos more stuff.

“But good sir, how do I get in touch with a carrier from someplace nowhere near the sea?”  Well, here’s what’s worked for me so far:

 

  1. Pick a carrier, any carrier (but preferably one at sea).
  2. Check out the carrier’s Facebook page.
  3. Under contact us, there’s usually an email.  Ask to be put in contact with the Morale or Recreation officer.
  4. Wait for that individual to write back.  This may take a while, as usually this falls under an additional duty.
  5. Write a letter introducing yourself and  explaining you’d like to donate free books either for the library or for sailors just to take.  Ask how you go about doing this.
  6. Follow the instructions and make this as easy as possible for said officer.  Createspace, for one, will even let you mail directly to the carrier.  However, that doesn’t let you put any of your marketing goodness like bookmarks into the envelope or box.

Again–this ain’t gonna be cheap.  However, you’re A. doing a good deed and B. giving sailors something new.  Given that the carrier will also farm out to its escorts, this may mean your book gets passed around a lot.

Book Donation Sites

Operation Paperback is the most famous of these.  However, local business will often collect books to donate to troops overseas as well.  In any case, a little bit of research will often provide several inexpensive opportunities for your to get your books in a care package to soldiers overseas.  Often times, your fellow authors will do it among friends. This is totally worthwhile because, again, captive audience.  As I alluded to above, I’ve read just about anything while on staff duty, in a waiting room, or in a situation where I needed something to occupy my mind.  I have confirmed that this is a desire that bibliophiles still strive to meet when stuck somewhere.

In any case, hopes this helps folks with some new ideas on off the beaten path ways to get books out in front of readers.  There will be more conventional posts coming, but for now I’m dragging myself off to sleep.

 

Warship Wednesday–Heavy Cruisers

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HEAVY CRUISERS (CA)

Usually found chasing down pirates or “showing the flag” in distant corners of the Confederation, heavy cruisers were ostensibly designed to accompany battlecruisers or serve as convoy escorts in time of war.  Prior to 3030, the mere presence of a heavy cruiser within a few hours of FTL travel was enough to deter all but the most foolhardy of pirates.  However, with the rise of the more famous pirate bands (The Crimson Hands, the Screaming Skulls, and the Sons of Lucifer the strongest amongst them) and the destruction of the C.S.S. Brussels, Dresden, and Earheart within a fortnight in 3031, heavy cruisers became increasingly less feared.  It was only after the successes of the Exeter-class (most notably the Vincennes and Skopje), the elimination of the Crimson Hands’ leadership under still unknown circumstances, and the utter crushing of the Screaming Skulls’ home base by a Confederation carrier task force that pirates once more learned to fear the sensor footprint of a Confederation CA closing at high speed.

***

As Ashley always says, “Context!” (Or would that be “Odin” in this case, Ashley?)  So the terminology of “heavy” cruisers stems from the Washington Naval Treaty of 1922.  TL:DR version–Great Britain was broke, the United States was paranoid, and Imperial Japan felt like they were getting punked at the big boy table.  Ergo, those three nations plus the other victors of World War I all noted the naval arms race between Germany and Great Britain had just maybe played a small (/sarcoff) part in World War I going from “Germany kicks France’s ass again while giving Russia the Heisman” to “Okay, everyone in the Northern Hemisphere to the mosh pit!”  Lots of geopolitics getting glossed over here, but the signatories all came to an agreement that fleets should be limited.  While there are lots of important things that come from this ultimately fruitless exercise, the big one is that cruisers are differentiated between heavy (8-inch guns) and light (6-inch guns) with a size limitation of 10,000 tons.  Lots of hilarity involves, and for those of you are fans of both the Usurper’s War and Vergassy series, you’re aware of most of it.

For those of you who like your aliens without a side of alternate history, here are the three things that make a cruiser “heavy” versus “light” in the Vergassy Universe:

1.) Percentage of protection vs. armament vs. propulsion.  Do I have that ratio figured out?  No, and neither does the Confederation Fleet’s Bureau of Ships.  Oh, and even if I did, the Spartans are going to kind of screw this chicken sideways with their cruisers.  Yes, that’s it, just cruisers.

2.) Function.  Light cruisers tend to be destroyer squadron flagships as well as possess a large number of missiles for dispatching small craft / starfighters / etc..

3.) Independent operations.  Light cruisers tend to be about 75% the size of heavy cruisers.  This affects their ability to go on long cruisers all by themselves due to issues with everything from habitability to an increased risk of being Scooby-snacked by a couple of pirate ships operating in concert.  Look at it as a heavy cruiser is sort of like the Punisher, i.e. even if you brought five of your friends, jumping him would be a bad idea.  Light cruisers, on the other hand, are that guy who was the baddest mofo in high school, but now that you’ve got your frat buddies you’re pretty sure you could take him.

In any case, with Though Our Hulls Burn in production, expect to see a lot of cruiser action.  Remember when we found out a little bit of Mackenzie Bolan’s backstory with regards to his career?  As alluded to above,  you’re going to find out why the Atlanta and her sister ships tend to fold like steel chairs.  It’s not going to be pretty, either.

 

News! Snippets!

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Just a quick post–Collisions of the Damned is in the final stages of post-production as an audiobook.  Hopefully it will be available by Black Friday, with the collection On Seas So Crimson being shortly behind.  If you know someone who would enjoy alternate history but may either have difficult finding the time to sit down with a hard copy book or is visually impaired, the Usurper War is now available as a thoughtful gift.

Also, an additional snippet from Though Our Hulls Burn.  

“So you say he is a rapist?” Agenor asked Commander Taylor, indicating Oliver at the end of the compartment.

“Yes, he was standing Captain’s Mast when we were alerted you had captured the aviso,” Taylor said, raising an eyebrow.

Agenor nodded.  Walking back down the noticeably cooling corridor, he drew his vibro katana.

“Prisoner!” he called to the man hunched in the corner, shaking.

“What do you want?!” Oliver cried, trying to scoot further away from the cell door.  Looking at the enclosure for a moment, Agenor took a deep breath…then punched through the lock with his battle armored fist.  The impact shot the lock and its fragments to the far side of the cell, Oliver screeching in surprise.

“Stand up,” Agenor said, shoving the door open.

“I-I-I didn’t do anything!” Oliver screamed, trying to scuttle away from him.

“I said, stand up,” Agenor shouted.  “If I have to lift you up, I swear you will suffer for it.”

Oliver stood, his eyes fixed on the blue sword, heat shimmers emanating from it as it hissed.

“Tell me, between us men, is your officer lying?” Agenor asked.  “Did you rape that woman?”

Oliver looked at Agenor, trying to meet his eyes through the tinted face shield.

I know he can still see the dried blood on me, Agenor thought.

“We Spartans are a reasonable people,” Agenor continued.  “If it was simply a misunderstanding, you could not help yourself, or she was intoxicated, our justice is more merciful than you are obviously used to.”

“They were going to throw me out an airlock,” Oliver said, his voice less afraid.  “It was simply a misunderstanding.”

Agenor moved with terrible swiftness, Oliver not even having time to flinch before the katana had severed his right arm beneath the elbow.  The man had just enough time to scream and start to reach for the limb before Agenor struck again, this time lopping off the left arm just above the wrist.  Stunned, Oliver fell backwards, screaming in pain as he looked at the two spurting wounds.  He had just enough time to look back up at Agenor before the man struck one last time.  Oliver’s head fell to the compartment’s deck, followed shortly by his crumpling body.  Steam briefly flashed off the vibrokatana as the man’s blood evaporated from its heat.

Resheathing the weapon, Agenor turned back to where Taylor stood between the other two Painbringers.  Her eyes were wide in shock and horror as she looked up at him.

“In Spartan lands, we usually geld a rapist in addition to removing both of his hands,” Agenor said conversationally.  “Does his victim live?”

Taylor looked at him, her mouth working but no sound coming out.  Manipulating his internal controls, Agenor raised his face shield so that he could meet Taylor’s eyes.

“Commander,” Agenor continued, “does his victim live?”

“P-p-probably not,” Taylor said.

“That is unfortunate,” Agenor said.

The deck groaned beneath their feet, reminding Agenor that they were still standing on a ravished hulk being dragged towards a star.

“Take me to your secondary bridge,” Agenor ordered.  “Quickly.”

 

Though Our Hulls Burn Teaser 2: Meet the Spartans

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Well folks, Nano Wrimo has begun.  I’ve broken ground on the sequel/prequel to An Unproven Concept, and here’s the first  bit in rough draft form.

Chapter 1: When Next We Meet

Spartan Man of War (SMW) The Taken Umbrage

0345 Spartan Military Time (SMT) / 0145 Standard Spacefarer’s Time (SST)

Ellylon /Yankee 975  System

15 December 3035

 

The command console’s sudden beeping in his ear caused Leftenant Ian Campbell to startle in his seat.  While the young Spartan managed to hold onto all of his cards, the sharp upwards motion of his knee caught the edge of the small table set up between The Taken Umbrage’s helm and weapons station.  With a spray of colored chips, cards, and the weapons officer’s ration cubes, the table and its contents floated upwards towards the bridge’s roof.

Smooth move, Campbell, Ian thought, his ruddy face coloring in embarrassment as he stretched for the nearest poker chips.  Catching two, his thumb clipped a third one and sent it spinning towards his face shield in the zero-g compartment.

“I got the chips,” Midshipman Yubani Mendoza said, giggling as the brown plastic piece skipped off the clear front of Ian’s thimble shaped helmet.  “You get the console.”

Taking a moment to watch as Yubani launched herself gracefully after the cloud of poker chips, Ian fought the urge to shout in frustration.

First time I’ve been kicking her ass in five months and the damn console decides to see another ghost, he thought disgustedly.  Hell, first time anyone has been winning poker against her since we came out here.

The console beeped once more, reminding Ian once again what had broken up their mid-watch poker game.  Finishing his chair swivel, Ian pressed his finger into the corner of the cold touch screen.  There was a slight tingle as his suit and the touchscreen exchanged their security handshakes confirming that, yes, indeed the small corvette’s weapons officer wished to interface with the central computer.

I’m not saying that small ship designers are paranoid, Ian thought, but if someone wanted to kill the entire crew I doubt using the central computer would be the method.  Hello airlock, sure I’d like to vent the atmosphere, good day powerplant I’d like to make a su…

The sarcastic space shanty died in his throat as the screen displayed what had interrupted their poker game.

Mother of God, Ian thought, suddenly unable to swallow or even breathe.  Whipping his eyes to the screen’s side, Ian checked to make sure the ship’s computer had not accidentally initiated a training exercise.  Taking a single ragged breath as his eyes told him that, no, The Taken Umbrage’s XO was not playing one of her sadistic tricks, Ian’s mind had one last moment of unabashed terror before his training kicked in.  Turning, he whistled to get Mendoza’s attention just as the younger officer was gathering the final poker chip.

“Midshipman Mendoza, go wake up the Captain, the Executive Officer, and the Chief Engineer in that order,” Ian said quickly and steadily.  “Tell them we have an unidentified contact, course oh nine oh and range 3 AUs relative.  Do not awake any other crew, then report back to your station.”

Mendoza turned to look at him, her brown eyes broadening until the whites were terribly highlighted against her tan skin.

Now, Yubani,” Ian said, gesturing.  Nodding quickly, her face set, Mendoza spun her slight frame and gracefully kicked off the overhead.  Arcing her body, she passed through the bridge’s hexagonal hatch and was gone.

Turning back to the sensor screen, Ian watched as the single blip continued to move from port to starboard of the Taken Umbrage’s facing.  Ellylon system was relatively sparse, its five planets’ orbits all within six AUs of the single neutron star a little over 175 million kilometers behind the corvette’s stern.

‘Where were you when it all went to Hell, Daddy?’ Ian thought quietly.  ‘Oh Princess, Daddy had a front row seat when the shit hit the…

“Campbell, I really hope this isn’t a sensor ghost,” Lieutenant Commander Kirtida Gorman said as she floated onto the bridge.  Still fastening up her suit with her left hand, the Taken Umbrage’s XO rubbed her eyes with the right.  “I was in the middle of a great dream.”

“Ma’am, the contact has changed course,” Ian said, taking a look back at his screen.

Kirtida paled as much as her honey toned complexion would allow.  Narrowing her blue eyes, she swam to the captain’s chair.  Strapping herself in, she reached down and slid the furniture’s heavy readout screen up and over in front of her.  Taking a stylus, she began hurriedly displaying, then rewinding the last five minutes of sensor coverage relayed from the passive buoys at the system’s edge.

“Who did you tell Mendoza to wake up?” Gorman asked, then nodded after Ian relayed the information.  “Good.  Old man’s gonna want to have time to think on this one.”

As if summoned by Gorman’s statements, the Taken Umbrage’s commanding officer was the next to pass through the hatchway.  Waving down Gorman before she could stand, Commander Jung-Hee Song snatched a stray poker chip out of midair.  Continuing into the bridge area, Song tucked his legs up and activated the magnetic soles of his uniform boots.  With a slight metallic clank!, Song’s feet stuck to the deck, allowing him to walk over to Ian’s console.  Standing, he was just barely taller than Ian sitting, but with broad shoulders and a narrow waist that emphasized just how muscular the Taken Umbrage’s commanding officer was.

“Well, that’s definitely not a rogue planet,” Commander Song said quietly as the contact began decelerating, then changed course once more.  “Or a sensor ghost.”

“Looks like it’s going to do an orbit of Fairfolk,” Ian stated, referring to the Ellylon system’s fourth planet.

“Makes sense,” Song replied.  “Only thing that looks remotely habitable.”

All three Spartan officers watched as their unknown contact settled in around the medium-sized planet.  Ian looked from Song to Gorman, both of them keeping perfectly straight faces.  Looking at him past the command screen, Gorman met his gaze levelly.

“A problem, Lieutenant Campbell?” she asked.

“Trying to figure out if I’m the butt of some elaborate prank XO,” Ian said after a moment.  Gorman and Song shared a look, then turned back to him.

“Sometimes there are things one needs to know, Lieutenant,” Commander Song said.  “Then there are things that one needs to just accept and continue doing their duty.  Speaking of which, start to charge the main battery.  With the primary closer to us than them, I doubt the bit of extra energy is going to show up on their sensors.”

“Aye aye, captain,” Ian said, turning back to his console and pressing the necessary controls.  The Taken Umbrage’s sixteen railguns were arranged in broadside mounts, eight to a side.  In rapid fire mode the rail guns could deliver a veritable hailstorm of duranium projectiles each the size of a medicine ball.

Of course, those projectile won’t do shit against anything much bigger than us, Ian thought grimly.  Which is why we have the missiles.  Arranged in four silos that ran the length of the corvette’s centerline, twenty Angon missiles arguably gave the Taken Umbrage the ability to punch far above her 25,000 ton displacement.

“Do we have any estimates on that thing’s size yet, Ian?” Song asked, looking up as Yubani reentered the bridge.  Pushing off the bulkhead, Yubani executed a near flawless midair flip that allowed her to catch the comms / helm seat with her feet.  Folding forward, she braced herself on Ian’s shoulder, then twisted into the seat and strapped herself in.

“No really, people, turn on your magboots,” Song said, chuckling.  “If they can detect that energy at this range through the pulsar behind us, we’re fucked.  Although that was pretty impressive, Midshipman Mendoza.”

Yubani colored slightly behind her face shield, then turned back to her console.  After a moment of looking over at her, Ian did the same.  After a couple of minutes of tense silence, the sensor suite beeping caused them all to jump.

“Contact’s size is estimated at approximately 35,000 tons, three hundred meters,” Ian said, reading the print scrolling next to Fairfolk on his screen.  Touching the screen, he separated his scrolling key from that of the command console’s and zoomed in on Fairfolk.  After a moment’s glitch, he found himself looking at the dark, irradiated rock with the contact’s icon circling it.  With a flare of energy, the contact finished its deceleration and established a geosynchronous orbit around the distant world.

Thank you for becoming relatively stationary, Ian thought.  In a process that seemed painstakingly slow but was likely only a couple of minutes, the sensor buoys used the radiated energy from Fairfolk like a back light in a photo box to paint an outline of the other vessel.  The alien interloper was shaped like an elongated kitchen baster, with the bulb end five times thicker than the rest of the hull.  Opening a smaller window to study the sensor feed of the deceleration, Ian determined that the narrow end was forward, the thicker end aft.

Slightly heavier than us, but there can’t be much protection with a hull that thin, Ian thought.

“Looks like she’s almost all engines, doesn’t she?” Commander Song asked.

Forgot the old man was still standing there, Ian thought.

“Yes, Sir,” Ian replied.  “But I can’t imagine she doesn’t have something to sting with in that hull.”

Song shook his head.

“I imagine this is a reconnaissance ship,” he replied.  “Or an explorer.  I can’t imagine any military vessel coming in that recklessly.”

That was a little careless, Ian agreed silently.

“Sir, do you want to move us out to engage?” the XO asked.  Out of the corner of his eye, Ian could see Gorman leaning forward in the command seat almost like a Kursk Simishark leaning out of the shallows towards prey.

Yep, the unpleasant surprise of a predator with gills, an IQ to rival a Terran orangutang’s, and jaws that can sever a leg, Ian thought.  That about sums up the XO if she had her own ship right now.

“No XO,” Song said, his tone that of a long suffering gang leader having to rein in his favorite hitman.  “Let’s observe our friend for a little bit.  If she comes further in, then we’ll get a look see.”

Gorman’s face briefly showed what she thought of that idea.

“Aye aye, Sir,” she said, her tone even.

“Think about it, XO,” Song said conversationally.  “You saw how quickly she decelerated to get into orbit.  We come out of this pulsar shadow like a bloodhound on crack, that thing just might lead us grabbing vacuum on the way to get some friends.”

Gorman thought about it for a second, then nodded with a slightly sheepish look.

The Umbrage is not a slow ship in sublight, Ian thought.  But it looked like that contact pulled double the deceleration we’re rated for, and that’s nothing to sneeze at.  If the Taken Umbrage had been a human rather than a warship, she would have been best described as “inching towards middle age.”  There were faster and stronger corvettes and destroyers in the fleet…but that was why the Umbrage was on the proverbial picket line and not them.

“That being said,” Song continued, “let’s go ahead and start generating a fire solution for the Angons.  If she comes into system that fast, a barrage to the face might be just the advantage we need to close within railgun range.”

With a press of several more buttons, Ian activated the missiles’ onboard telemetry.  The Angons began to take input from the Taken Umbrage’s sensor relay.  While far, far outside of the missiles’ range even with a ballistic profile, being backlit by Fairfolk allowed the Angons’ sensors to get a good, solid image of what their prey looked like.

Helps not to be fooled by a decoy if you know what the real deal looks like, Ian thought.  Leaving the missiles to do their thing, he turned back to regard the other vessel.

“How long until the Wayward Lich is in line of sight?” Song asked, referring to the Taken Umbrage’s companion patrol vessel.  Ian saw Yubani regard the system map.

“Cynon will be around the primary in ten minutes, Sir,” Yubani replied, referring to the system’s second planet.  After a moment, a blue icon with dashed edges winked into being near Cynon’s moon.

“Here’s to hoping they’re watch was as attentive as ours was,” Song said.

Or that Commander Meeker isn’t as aggressive as Lieutenant Commander Gorman, Ian thought.  The Wayward Lich was a newer, faster vessel than the Taken Umbrage.  If she used Cynon’s gravity to slingshot, she just might have a chance of catching the intruder.

“I take it Midshipman Mendoza continues her unbeaten streak at poker?” Song said, breaking Ian’s concentration.

Ian and Yubani shared a look of mutual embarrassment.

“Lieutenant Campbell was having better luck than most, Commander,” Yubani replied with a slight smile.  Ian saw Gorman raise an eyebrow, the command screen keeping her from the midshipman’s line of sight.

“Interesting.  Well, XO, since you’re already in the chair, I’m going back to sleep until the Lich is in comm laser range,” Song said.  Gorman looked up in surprise, then realized she’d been behind the eight ball pretty much since Song had come into the compartment.

“Aye aye, Sir,” Gorman said.

“No starting interstellar conflicts while I’m gone,” Song continued.  “If she gets within 1 AU, bring us to modified yellow alert.”

“Aye aye, Sir,” the XO said.  To Ian’s surprise, she sounded almost relieved at Song’s instructions.

“Lieutenant Campbell, Midshipman Mendoza has three tells,” Song said over his shoulder while he walked towards the hatch.  “XO can get you the bridge camera files if you’re really interested.”

Ian felt his jaw drop as the hatch closed behind Umbrage Actual.

“Incidentally, Lieutenant Campbell,” Lieutenant Commander Gorman said conversationally, “I didn’t actually break my ex-husband’s leg.  That was the six meter drop to the street.  If you must know, I wasn’t waving at butcher knife either.”

Yubani turned to look at Ian, her eyes wide in horror.  Ian felt the blood rush to his face.

“And it was my sister he was sleeping with, not my superior officer,” Gorman continued.  “Now close your mouth, you’re going to start making your suit wonder why you’re hyperventilating.”

Ian did as he was told, turning back to his console almost in shock.  The Umbrage’s most recent refit had seen several of the cameras added for “damage control purposes.”

They had said the audio features hadn’t been added yet, Ian thought.

“Don’t feel bad,” Gorman stated.  “Lieutenant Drummond apparently believes the rumor that I actually castrated the poor man and made him listen to his balls sizzle in the waste incinerator.”

Ian looked and saw that Yubani was nervously glancing over at him.

Planet awkward, he thought.

“That’s just what I said I was going to do before he jumped out the window,” Gorman said with a laugh.  The sound made the hairs stand up n the back of Ian’s neck.  Before he could start to slouch behind his seat, the console gave yet another sharp tone.

Thank you, thank you, thank you, Ian thought.  The contact had broken orbit from Fairfolk and was accelerating.  After a moment, the Taken Umbrage’s computers assigned a vector line to the icon.  Looking, Ian saw that the lengthening line took the vessel to the ecliptic “east” and away from The Taken Umbrage.  As he watched, the line almost doubled in a couple of heartbeats.

Okay, no, not even the Lich is catching that thing, Ian thought.  I really hope that she is unarmed, because weapons plus engines of that power will be a tough out…

“Looks like she’s accelerating to hyperspace,” Gorman said.

“Shall I wake Commander Song?” Ian asked, reaching for his seat buckle.

“What?  So he can increase gravity and slow that thing down?” Gorman snorted.

Before Ian could reply, there was a momentary flash on the sensor screen as the intruder ripped a hole in normal space.  A moment later, the dark maroon of a hyperspace event signaled the contact had left.  Looking at the clock, Gorman’s eyes narrowed.

“No poker,” the XO ordered.  “Talk about home, talk about your first pet, talk about whether the North Americans or the Chinese started the Great War.  But you keep your eyes glued to those screens, and send Mendoza to come get me if anything happens.”

“Aye aye, XO,” Ian and Yubani said in unison.

“Failing that, you wake me up twenty minutes before you wake up the old man,” Gorman continued, unbuckling her belt then activating her magshoes.  “Not a word about the bridge cameras to anyone else, either.  Old man isn’t using them to spy, per se—he’s just trying to figure out who works well together.”

That explains all the watch rotations, Ian thought.

“Aye aye, XO,” he said.  Gorman started heading for the door, then stopped.

“Incidentally, Campbell, how is your ancient Cantonese?” Gorman asked.  “I see you took three years of it as a cadet.”

“Passable XO,” Campbell said, then continued in Cantonese, “I wouldn’t want to give someone instructions on how to dismantle a rail gun with it, but I can manage.”

Gorman gave a knowing smile at that.

“Brush up on it a bit,” she replied.  “Especially phrases you may use in a boarding action.”

With that, Gorman passed through the hatch.  It closed behind her, leaving Yubani and Ian in awkward silence.

“I’m so sorr…” Ian started.

“I didn’t mean to miss…” Yubani said simultaneously.  They both stopped, laughing at the other.

“I get the feeling there’s something they’re not telling us,” Ian said after a moment’s pause.

“Gee, could it have been that very large pachyderm that danced around the bulkheads?” Yubani replied sarcastically, then added a sheepish, “Sir.”

“I wonder what else they’ve heard?” Ian thought, turning back to his console.  Yubani was quiet for a moment, and he turned to see her face starting to blush under her light brown complexion.

“Is there something you’d like to tell me, Midshipman Mendoza?” Ian asked.

“Yes, Sir, my first pet’s name was Mephistopheles,” Yubani replied flatly.

Okay, I’m not going to press my luck, Ian thought.  But if ever I wish I could read minds.

B-Sides and Outtakes–Armageddon Dawn Part VIII (Conclusion)

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Epilogue

 

C.C.D.F.S. Emancipation

1455 Confederation Common Time

30  June, 2011

 

“I’m telling you right now, you little weasel, this is it!  No more kids!” a woman said as Eric entered the medical ward.  The woman was leaning up in the bed nursing her newborn infant, brown curly hair about shoulder length down her shoulders.

“Julie, we’ve got to start repopulating,” her husband, a short, stocky man named David said.

“Let me put this in terms you can understand, Mr. West Point Man,” the woman replied.  “There will be no more sex for you until one of us gets fixed.  Three is enough, especially when they’re all boys.”

“Don’t you want a little girl that can grow up to be as beautiful as her mother?” Dave asked sweetly.

“No, and flattery isn’t going to get you laid.”

Eric shook his head.  Julie Donze had to be the most stubborn woman he knew.  After receiving her Doctorate in Mechanical Engineering from University of Missouri, Rolla, she had been set up with Dave by some crazy friend of hers.  Dave had been an Army officer, a veteran of Iraqi Freedom and Crescent Justice, the war with Saudi Arabia.  Neither one of them knew the ultimate fate of their friend, but the survivor’s rolls were still being compiled across the Confederation Fleet.

“Hey Dave, Julie,” Eric said, moving past the bed.

“Eric,” Dave said, then turned back to his wife and child.

Eric continued walking down the nearly empty medical bay.  There hadn’t been many wounded during the final evacuation, and what there had been had been quickly fixed up by the Dominionites medical nanobots.  Only four other beds besides Julie’s were filled, two of them with expectant mothers.  For all their medical technology, the Dominionites couldn’t speed up the labor process.  One more bed was filled with a vacant-eyed psychotic casualty, the stress having finally made the man snap.

It was the occupant of the fourth bed that Eric was interested in.  Lying flat on her stomach while the nanobots continued to work on her back, Jessica Banner had not regained consciousness since her injury.  The doctors had run out of ideas, but then had heard she was somehow known to a Star Colonel Eric Walthers, apparently her only close friend that had survived Earth’s demise.  Upon further review, the doctors had realized that it was Eric ‘Lightning Rider’ Walthers, Hero of Earth that the bedraggled members of 1st Shock Brigade had been referring to in the aftermath of their own personal Little Big Horn.  The one that had killed the Crown Prince and personally rode a Griffinfull of assault troops into the ground, then recovered from the heart of the explosion to charge his badly damaged mecha into a flank assault of Praetorian Guards.  Apparently he had even survived that despite several eyewitness accounts that stated his mecha had exploded, starting the galaxy’s largest dead man’s switch.

The actual truth was a bit less heroic.  The Praetorians had fixed the majority of the 6th and 7th Shock, their massive advantage in numbers being somewhat helpful.  If Eric hadn’t destroyed the third Griffin, the battle would have been lost.  As it was, a Praetorian detachment had been hustling towards his still active transponder, expecting to avenge their Crown Prince’s death, when Karin had arrived on the scene with a scratch detachment of Powell’s from the 2-70th Armor led by Jason.  Utterly outclassed, the men from the 2-70th had fought and died bravely, allowing Jack enough time to shift forces to deal with the threat.  With the Praetorians in a temporary retreat to await reinforcements, reinforcements that were already burning into the Earth’s atmosphere, Karin and Jack had extricated Eric from the wrecked Nikita.

With the enemy closing, Karin had made a snap decision.  Working quickly, she had attached Eric’s transponder to her own mecha.  She had given Jack a direct order to find Jessica, dead or alive, and given him the required information.  Then, kissing the unconscious Eric goodbye, she had revved her hovertank up to its maximum speed and headed north, away from the Praetorian landing site.  Predictably, the movement had the desired effect, the Praetorian and the incoming vessels starting to give chase.  Karin had met her end, her Grizzly shattered under a tidal wave of battle armor.

Her death left Jack to carry out her last order, and quickly.  Jack had found Jessica almost bled out, but had stabilized her.  Spinal injuries were relative child’s play for the Dominionites, and she was expected to make a full physical recovery.  With both Eric and Jessica strapped to the stop of his mecha in its hovertank mode, Jack had hauled ass back to Fort Riley.  The last ship, the Valhalla, had been just preparing to take off when he pulled onboard.  Lighting off her propulsion units, the Valhalla was followed out of orbit by General Connelly’s ship, the delay for the latter caused by a detour to Washington, D.C..  General Connelly was always a man of his word.

Not that it particularly mattered.  With the destruction of Eric’s transponder, a massive time bomb had begun ticking.  General Connelly had directed the Tectal to surreptiously place anti-matter warheads on the Earth’s major faultlines during their recovery operations.  Triggered by the destruction of Eric’s transponder, the bombs simultaneously triggered forty-eight hours after the destruction of Eric’s transponder.  The result had gone much like General Connelly had expected.  Earth was no more.

With a heavy sigh Eric sat down in front of Jessica’s bed.  He had just come out of the body and fender shop himself two days before.  It took awhile to get used to alien technology.  Reaching out, he stroked Jessica’s hair.  Tears began to run down his face as he looked at her sleeping.

“You know, you really need to wake up,” he said softly, sobbing.  “You don’t need any more beauty sleep.”

“You said that yesterday and the day before,” Jessica replied softly.  “A girl gets tired of hearing the same lines over and over again.”

Eric nearly jumped out of his seat in joy, suddenly unable to speak.  Jessica’s next words stopped the celebration.

“The first day, I thought I was in heaven,” Jessica said.  “To hear your voice again…it was one of the most powerful emotions I’ve ever had.  Then I realized that I was still alive, and I suddenly didn’t want to be anymore.”

Rolling over, Jessica met Eric’s eyes, her face set.

“I don’t know what’s happened to you for the past six years.  I don’t care.  I never want to speak to you again, Eric.  Ever.  Go back to wherever the hell you’ve been and stay there.  Leave me alone.”

Feeling as if he had been sucker punched, Eric stood up.  Taking one last look at Jessica, he turned and headed for the door.

***

So for those of you who read this far, what’d you think?  I’ve always debated going back to this universe and fleshing things out.  I will say that I got about another 10,000 words into a longer version of this, but stopped when I realized that it really did seem like I was channeling John Ringo plus had grad school to worry about.

I’ll be honest–I didn’t want to end the story so abruptly, especially after introducing new characters.  At the time, it was being written for short story markets.  Since I submitted it, I’ve come to realize that it’s really a full novel trying to wear a novella’s outfit.  (“High waders!  Get your high waders here!”)  With the Vergassy, Usurper’s War, and Scythefall Universes all vying for time, this will likely stay somewhere in the back of the cupboard.  At any rate, hope you enjoyed.

Though Our Hulls Burn… Teaser 1: Tentative Chapter Titles

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Part I: On the Nature of Scorpions

Chapter 1: When Next We Meet

Chapter 2: A Grave Error In Judgment

Chapter 3: A Baseball Bat…In the Dark…To the Face

Chapter 4: Lessons Observed…As Opposed to Learned

Chapter 5: Mr. Oppenheimer Gets Prison Swole

Chapter 6: Sledgehammer Resistant Walnuts

Chapter 7: Dead Carl and the Angry Spartans

Chapter 8: A True Compromise

Part II: Honor and Angst

Chapter 9: Along Came The Spider…

Chapter 10: The Golden Fields

Chapter 11: Here There Be Dragons

Chapter 12: The Pirate’s Life For Me

Chapter 13: Good Hunting

Chapter 14: An Abject Lesson

Chapter 15: The Last Full Measure

Chapter XX: Shore Leave